Future of the Food Supply Chain: What Trends Are Sticking Around?

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When people realized they were going to be sheltering at home this spring, they started to change. And some of those changes will likely stick around, experts say. 

“You saw people immediately trying to find things that were familiar or fresh. They wanted food that would provide them protein for a while because who knew how long it would be before they were able to get back to the grocery store and then when they did, what would be available?” said National Pork Board CEO Bill Even during a THRIVE Innovation Series webinar about the food supply chain.

People were thinking about their most basic needs – and that provided agriculture with a real opportunity, Even said. 

“We've got the public's attention,” he said. “Here in the United States, or certainly in some of the more industrialized countries, we take food for granted. It's always there. It's ever-present, in the cupboard, in the refrigerator, in the freezer, in the store, in the restaurant.”

But COVID-19 opened people’s eyes to just how tight the food supply chain is and how a “just-in-time” supply chain can pose its challenges under the right circumstances.

Shifting trends
In addition to not taking food for granted, several trends emerged during this time.

“There's no doubt COVID-19 has pushed some marketing trends forward,” said Joe Weber, executive vice president of growth and business development at Smithfield Foods.

One of the biggest developments he’s seen is more digital. COVID-19 has helped consumers adapt more quickly to digital ordering of food – whether that’s picking up food at the store or at the restaurant or having food delivered to directly to their home.

The National Pork Board has had a long-standing partnership with Google and YouTube. Even said when the pandemic struck, they used the digital information they’ve gleaned from the two sites to pivot their marketing to meet consumers where they are at.

“We got basic information to the Gen Z and millennials who suddenly had a pork loin or a pork roast or a ham and weren't quite sure how to cook it,” Even said. 

From how to cook once and eat three times to save money to what to do with leftovers, the National Pork Board was monitoring consumers’ questions and helping provide them with answers.

Weber said he’s also seeing more trends around health and wellness.

“I think our consumers are really focused on that and I think they'll continue to focus on that even after COVID might no longer be an issue,” Weber said.

In addition, consumers are showing more interest in fresh proteins, as opposed to value-added products. Consumers have more time on their hands with so many events being canceled, so they have more time to prepare food, he added.

Weber noted there has been a focus on trying alternative products, including plant-based proteins. 

“There are some trends that have gotten pushed back a little bit like sustainability around packaging,” Weber said. “Hopefully we'll get past that when COVID is over. You're seeing people less concerned about packaging, and we need to find solutions around that.”
 

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